Well, we knew that Scandal was destined for a backtrack after last week’s propulsion forward, but “Get Out Of Jail, Free” is a bit extreme. Just when we thought we were out: after Olivia bared her soul to the whole country, and Cyrus was back in line to protect Fitz, and the president was prepared to be impeached for his love for Olivia. But by the end of this episode, I would be hard-pressed to think of a Scandal episode where things were more messed up. Were we really in such great shape just a week ago?

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It’s all so convoluted that I’m sitting here trying to unravel where Scandal went so very wrong. And I can point to my personal common denominator as to when things are terrible on Scandal, and it’s not Fitz: It’s Eli Pope. Olivia’s dad is back in play and found something his daughter needed so that he could get out of prison, and there is nothing about that that’s exciting, or intriguing, or promising for the rest of the season. It fills us with nothing but dread. It’s significant that even the Scandal cast members can’t bear to say the name B613 anymore, but there it is pulling the strings behind Lazurus One, four syllables we will soon learn to hate as much as B613. Because it’s basically the same thing.

So Rowan can get Olivia out. And Olivia, instead of marrying the man she says that she loves, decides that getting her mass-murderer father out of jail is a better plan. We can armchair-analyze Olivia Pope all we want, but here’s what I think her big hangup is about Fitz: Power. All she does is machinate and arrange things and make sure that she’s the smartest person in the room. Look how much she talked about building her own business in her interview last week, an enterprise that clearly still means a lot to her. With Fitz, as the wife of the most powerful man in the world, she would ironically have almost no power at all. She herself points out to Abby that the presidential bedroom is nothing but a prison. Fitz fumbles his makeup proposal by saying, “You are what I want,” a sentence that leaves what Olivia wants almost completely out of the picture, and her face falls as soon as she hears it. Then she gets the lowdown from the cone-collar Secret Service guy: She would never be able to go to work again. Meet with clients. The Secret Service would follow her wherever she went. When she says they’re not ready, I think this is the part she’s not ready for. If she and Fitz were in a vacuum—like they are in the presidential bedroom, actually—they’d be fine, but they’re not. So Olivia needs another way out.

It’s just so heinous and unfortunate that Eli is her path to get there. Why do people keep thinking they can kill him, like the guard and Elyse, when obviously he’s a skillful trained killer? Why would anyone think he should be anywhere but behind bars? Olivia, tries, feebly, to ignore her father, and yes, the scandalous takedown of the judiciary committee was awfully satisfying to witness. But at what cost? AT WHAT COST.

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Because now, not only is Eli out, but so is TOM, the double agent who murdered Little Jerry. And we are supposed to believe that Mellie would partner with the people behind the death of her son, in her bid to become president. It’s so far-fetched that I wonder if she has had some breakdown of some sort (Mellie, not Shonda). Because the ending twist in the tunnel, while again, gratifying, as Olivia walks away to the tune of Gil-Scott Heron, makes no damn sense in this world or any other.

I’ve mentioned before how Mellie is a divisive character (just take a look at any episode’s comments section for proof). Yes, if she was that unhappy she should have gotten out years ago. Yes, it’s unfair for her to blame Fitz for everything wrong in her life. Yes, I believe these characters have had this conversation any number of times: Just last season Mellie slapped Fitz right across the face, screeching, “You take everything from me!” That doesn’t mean that Bellamy Young and Tony Goldwyn aren’t a revelation to watch play against each other, because they are: Witness the way you could see him crumbling as she pointed out all his shortcomings. As divorced people, there’s no reason to pretend anymore, so Fitz makes a point of stating that Olivia is the only woman he’s ever loved, even though we’ve seen him smitten with Mellie in flashbacks. And, since the Grants are now divorced, Shonda Rhimes needs a way to keep Mellie in the game. Bellamy Young just brings this vital note of vulnerability—even when she’s doing heinous things, even when she’s screaming at her now-ex husband—that makes her a blast to watch. Digging hooch out of the First Lady’s closet, plotting her world domination takeover with a sadistic glint in her eye, in an effort to make her life finally mean something: I say, bring it on. And for Olivia, even though she thought she was trapped before, she appears to have wandered into a much stickier web.

I’m much more interested in seeing the Olivia-Mellie partnership, then, than anything in the Eli camp. Look at their first underground showdown this episode, when Olivia uses her considerable persuasive powers to try to sway Mellie to release her father from prison. I was taken aback when Olivia told Mellie that her father killed Little Jerry, however; it seemed almost cruel, and we know Olivia is not cruel. Maybe it was just because she wanted to come clean, finally. Nonetheless, Olivia and Mellie are always dynamic to watch.

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Eli no longer brings that kind of strength to the table, but still it looks like he’s back in the picture. As many times we thought we were rid of him, we never are, which leads me to believe that Shonda Rhimes wants him on Scandal for good. Which unfortunately puts the entire series at a disadvantage.

Stray observations

  • You Got Served,” right? Really good episode!
  • Fun scene with David and Susan, two secondary characters we don’t see enough of. Just the sight of those wine coolers was stomach-turning, but what else would Susan Ross drink?
  • Speaking of secondary characters, does Huck actually do anything anymore? If he’s no longer a torturing killing machine, he doesn’t serve much purpose, as indicated by his current less-than-five-lines an episode.
  • Also can’t believe that Olivia would keep calling Jake to talk about her relationship. Had to cheer when he hung up on her. Twice.
  • Can you fake heart arrhythmia?
  • Sally’s glee over the impeachment hearings is pretty hilarious.
  • Ugh to Fitz whining about setting up his proposal setting, when really he had all of his underlings do it for him. I have to believe he’s right, though, no guy is sprinkling rose petals on the floor because he wants to.
  • “Optics” count: Two.

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